Little Sisters of the Poor to close St. Louis Residence

The Little Sisters of the Poor announced July 6 that they will close their St. Louis Residence, after a nearly two-year search to find a new sponsor to manage the facility for the elderly poor in Old North St. Louis.

"The conclusion we have reached is not what we had hoped for and certainly not what we have worked toward these past two years," said Chicago provincial superior Mother Maria Christine Lynch, who addressed residents and their families and employees at a July 6 meeting. "The Little Sisters share the deep pain of what these words mean for each and everyone here and for everyone associated with our home."

The sisters have set a deadline of Oct. 31 to secure new living arrangements for all residents. Since the initial announcement of the sisters' withdrawal in 2016, 14 residents have moved, seven of whom have gone to other homes sponsored by the sisters in other parts of the United States. A committee is providing families with assistance in finding new living arrangements. Employees, some of whom have worked for decades at the residence, will be provided with resources to find new employment, including job searches and help with resumes.

Six sisters at the north St. Louis residence will move to other community sponsored residences in the United States.

"The Little Sisters will be the last to leave," Sister Maria Christine said. "We will be here until the very end."

In August 2016, the sisters announced they would withdraw from their ministry in the archdiocese after 147 years. They cited an aging religious community and decrease in sufficient vocations to effectively staff the north St. Louis residence, in the spirit of the community's foundress St. Jeanne Jugan.

The Little Sisters and lay administrative staff worked for the past 18 months with Kevin Short, managing partner and CEO of Clayton Capital Partners, a St. Louis-based investment banking firm that specializes in merger and acquisition advisement. The property has been listed with St. Louis-based Nai Desco, a commercial real estate brokerage firm.

Several groups expressed interest, and the Little Sisters even looked at alternative uses of the property, including a non-residential center for social service programs for the elderly poor in the neighborhood. "We are disappointed that none of these partnerships were able to advance their plans," Sister Maria Christine said.

The sisters were diligent in informing residents and staff about their efforts the past two years. "I can't tell you how many hours we spent working with different groups," said local superior Mother Gonzague Castro. "But the handwriting was on the wall. We've turned over (ownership) of other homes in the United States, but this is one of the first homes we have had to close."

Joann and Kenneth Hilkerbaumer of Redbud, Mo., attended the July 6 meeting. The two are caregivers for a friend, 100-year-old Josephine Austin, a former Little Sister of the Poor who has lived at the residence since 2013.

"She had 17 and a half acres in Rosebud, and I helped them with that — cut their grass, anything they needed," said Joann Hilkerbaumer. "She had no immediate family here. She always said this is where she wanted to end her days so she could attend Mass every day."

"This is the best I've ever seen," said Kenneth Hilkerbaumer, who added that he's never had an affinity for nursing homes. "Sister Joseph has been so good to us."

Carolyn Daniels was recognized for being the longest-term employee, having started at the residence as a certified nursing assistant 44 years ago. She also worked as a certified medical technician and in restorative therapy, and most recently has been working as a schedule coordinator. Numerous other employees have been at residence for decades, including Margie Schaumann and Cheryl Schmitt, who have worked there more than 40 years — a testament to the value the sisters have placed in their employees.

"I started here when I was 23," Daniels said. "This has been my first and only job. My mother worked here, and I used to come and volunteer and help her. I've done private duty at other homes and this is the best. We have good employees, the home is clean — we're like a big family. The sisters, they've always been giving and understanding — listening to anything you have to say. I know I'm going to miss them all." 

A mission of caring for the elderly poor

Seven Little Sisters of the Poor arrived in St. Louis from France in 1869 at the invitation of Archbishop Peter Richard Kenrick. With a mission of caring for the elderly poor of the city, in the spirit of foundress St. Jeanne Jugan, they welcomed their first resident at a temporary quarters located Downtown at Ninth Street and Washington Avenue.

In 1870, property was purchased at North Florissant and Hebert streets in what is now the Old North St. Louis neighborhood. An existing home was arranged to allow for a greater number of elderly residents in need. The new building soon filled to capacity. Plans were made in 1873 to add a new wing and chapel. By 1900, a second wing was added, and the home served 276 residents.

In 1936, the sisters acquired a truck, to be used for "begging" for the needs of the residents, a tradition initiated by St. Jeanne Jugan. The St. Louis sisters continue that tradition today, asking for food, commodities and monetary assistance to cover roughly $2.4 million annually that is not covered by state and federal funding.

A new home on the same grounds opened in 1971, and a second residence in south St. Louis merged with the north city location. The residence was remodeled in 1993 to modernize the main dining room, provide a dining area for the Senior Day Center and complete a "mini-mall" area with a country store, gift shop, library and ice cream parlor. At the sisters' 125th anniversary in 1994, 15 new apartments were dedicated, allowing them to expand their work to healthy elderly people of limited financial means.

The current residence offers senior apartments, independent living and intermediate nursing care. A Senior Day Center program exists for residents of the Hyde Park neighborhood who still live in their own homes. It serves about 20 participants.

There are 2,081 Little Sisters of the Poor who serve the elderly poor in 176 homes around the world, including South America, Europe, Africa, Oceania and Asia. The sisters operate 27 homes in the United States. In Missouri, there is one other residence in Kansas City. 

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